06:17, February 14 39 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-14 06:17:04
Police who warned man about 'transphobic' tweet acted unlawfully

Police officers unlawfully interfered with a man’s right to freedom of expression by turning up at his place of work to speak to him about allegedly “transphobic” tweets, the high court has ruled.

Harry Miller, a former police officer who founded the campaign group Fair Cop, said the actions of Humberside police had a “substantial chilling effect” on his right to free speech.

Miller, 54 and from Lincolnshire, claims an officer told him he had not committed a crime, but that his tweeting was being recorded as a “hate incident”.

The College of Policing’s guidance defines a transgender hate incident as “any non-crime incident which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender”.

In a ruling on Friday, the high court in London found the actions of Humberside police were a “disproportionate interference” with Miller’s right to freedom of expression.

But Mr Justice Julian Knowles rejected a wider challenge to the lawfulness of the College of Police guidance, ruling that it “serves legitimate purposes and is not disproportionate”.

The judge said: “The claimants’ tweets were lawful and there was not the slightest risk that he would commit a criminal offence by continuing to tweet.

“I find the combination of the police visiting the claimant’s place of work, and their subsequent statements in relation to the possibility of prosecution, were a disproportionate interference with the claimant’s right to freedom of expression because of their potential chilling effect.”

In his judgment, Knowles stated: “I conclude that the police left the claimant with the clear belief that he was being warned by them to desist from posting further tweets on transgender matters even if they did not directly warn him in terms.

“In other words, I conclude that the police’s actions led him, reasonably, to believe that he was being warned not to exercise his right to freedom of expression about transgender issues on pain of potential criminal prosecution.”

At a hearing in November, Miller’s barrister Ian Wise QC said his client was “deeply concerned” about proposed reforms to the law on gender recognition and had used Twitter to “engage in debate about transgender issues”.

He argued that Humberside police, following the College of Policing’s guidance, had sought to “dissuade [Miller] from expressing himself on such issues in the future”, which he said was “contrary to his fundamental right to freedom of expression”.

The judge said Miller strongly denies being prejudiced against transgender people, and regards himself as taking part in the “ongoing debate” about reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

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